by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & ost Inland Northwest schools will close their doors for the summer next week. Some, like the families and staff of Pratt Elementary School in east Spokane, will look back on the year with great emotion, as they rallied unsuccessfully to save their school from permanent closure. Others, like the families with school-aged children on the Five Mile Prairie, will wave goodbye to one school and look forward to opening a new school in September.
School's Out Forever
When the news broke in January that the Spokane School District proposed to permanently close Pratt School, it shocked the parents, students and teachers associated with the Edgecliff neighborhood.
"Our hearts sink at the prospect of losing our school," said Sandra Lampe-Martin at a school board hearing in March. "We have just begun to bring a sense of community back to our neighborhood. Losing our school would take away all that."
At a series of public meetings, community leaders from Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to Spokane Valley City Councilman Bill Gothmann urged district leaders to reconsider. But school board members, looking at shrinking enrollment across the district and in need of places to cut expenses and reduce a potential $10 million deficit next year, voted in April to end the 49-year-old facility's run as an elementary school.
"When we heard about the board's vote," says Pratt Principal Paul Gannon, "We, the staff and I, decided to have fun the last five or six weeks of school. We're trying to make a positive out of a negative."
Pratt has brought in several authors, including Whitworth College poet Laurie Lamon on Thursday, to conduct small group sessions with students about reading and writing. The school has also planned an all-school barbecue and a field day. On Monday Pratt students were bussed to the schools they'll attend next fall (mostly Lincoln Heights and Sheridan) and on Wednesday night, those schools hosted barbecues for their new students and their parents.
"A large majority of the parents have gotten past the anger [about the closure]," says Gannon. "They realize a decision had to be made and they're resigned to that. Most of the calls we get now from parents are about next fall; they want to make sure their children will be able to safely get to their new school and back."
Pratt will be finished as an elementary school, but whether the building will still have some use hasn't been decided. "We could mothball it and keep its systems minimally functional," says Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson. "But we'll also be talking with the city of Spokane Valley and the sheriff's SCOPE (community-oriented policing) program about whether they would like to use some of that building." The sheriff's department runs a neighborhood cop shop near the school.
"Maybe there are ways we can open the gyms to the community or give them access to the kitchens," says Gannon.
Anderson says the district hopes to decide Pratt's short-term future by the end of the summer. The longer-term plans, he says, will depend on at least two other factors: (1) whether the district is successful in its bid to take over the U.S. Army's Mann Center in Hillyard, where it would house about 100 special education staff members, and (2) how the state will proceed with full-day kindergarten. This fall six Spokane schools will offer "all-day K" to parents. Anderson says if the state decides to spend the money to make the program available to all schools, Pratt's classrooms may again be needed to host the pitter-patter of little feet.
Big School on the Prairie
After years of seeing her three children bussed several miles from the family home on Spokane's Five Mile Prairie to Evergreen Elementary School (near the North Division Y), Dody Wilson is happy her kids will have a shorter commute this fall. "It's only a mile and a half" to Prairie View, the Mead School District's new grade school on the prairie. Her children are saying goodbye to their friends at Evergreen, although some of those students will also attend Prairie View. "Initially we felt a little melancholy [about leaving Evergreen]. Our oldest went there for seven years, but now almost everyone up here is excited."
The new school will serve the rapidly growing population on the prairie, an unusual mix of rural and suburban lifestyles. Across the street from the school is a working farm; behind it is the new Jesse's Bluff subdivision.
At the recent Five Mile Prairie Summit meeting convened by County Commissioner Todd Mielke and City Council President Joe Shogan, Mead Superintendent Tom Rockefeller said district officials had originally projected to open Prairie View with 420 students, but Prairie View Principal Becky Cooke now expects more than 500 students on the first day. She says the school is built to house as many as 560 children, more if the district brings in portable classrooms.
"It's tough to plan for a case like this," Cooke says. "You want to build a school big enough so that it's not full when you first open the doors, but you also want to be good stewards of our patrons' tax money, so you don't want to build it too big."
The clock is ticking for construction workers. Much of the building's exterior is ready, but there's still work to do inside and on the school grounds.
"We're in the process of getting the irrigation system in, seeding, finishing the concrete work, planting, landscaping. We're doing the inside finishing work, in the gym, the multi-purpose room, the library," confirms John Dormaier, the district's director of facilities and planning. With the first day of school on Tuesday, Sept. 4, "it doesn't leave us any elbow room," he says.
SIZING UP SAFETY ISSUES
Several parents complained at the summit that the prairie's street infrastructure is inadequate for the children who will want to walk to school.
"There are no speed zone signs, no crosswalks," said one parent of students who use the newly renovated, but much smaller, Five Mile Prairie School, a few blocks away from the new facility. That's where the district houses its program for home-schooled children. "When we use the [Skyview Prairie] park for P.E. classes, we have to walk the kids down and across Five Mile Road, which puts them at risk," she said.
Indeed, most of the roads on the prairie are narrow, two-lane throughways with no sidewalks.
"We're concerned that kids will be walking to school from all over the prairie," said another parent.
"We know kids won't be safe walking to school so we'll be bussing students who live even only a few blocks away," responded Jack Lewis, the district's director of transportation. Because the state pays the district only for its costs of driving children who live a mile or more from their schools, Lewis says Mead will have to pick up the $200,000 to $250,000 cost of transporting the close-in students. "We'll be running five bus routes on the prairie and carrying about 160 more kids that we'd originally expected," he says. The only area not covered by buses will be the Jesse's Bluff subdivision next door, he says, where students can walk on sidewalks to the school grounds.
A lack of better roads on the prairie is a sore spot with residents. "Why are there so many streets and arterials with no sidewalks?" Five Mile resident Steve Mumm asked county and city officials at the summit. (A sidewalk runs the entire length of the property in front of the new school and stops at both ends.)
"Anything new that's built here should accommodate bicycles and walkers," answered Mielke. "Our challenge is how to retrofit those types of projects on existing roads. How do we pay for them? Impact fees? We're studying those questions right now. Because the prairie is a city/county mixed area, we have to be creative in how we finance road projects. We're budgeting the money. We're not sitting on our hands."
Suzanne Gustafson, the parent of two children who will attend Prairie View, says even with the inadequate roads, she can get her children to their new school in three minutes, and she's happy about that.
New Uses for Old Schools
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & & lt;/span & If Pratt School is given a new mission, it would continue a trend of recycling old school buildings in Spokane.
For example, in 1996, when the new Chase Middle School made the old Libby Middle School obsolete, the district turned Libby into its home for gifted education programs. It's also a home for severely handicapped students and for teacher education classes. The old Bryant Elementary now houses the district's programs for home-schooled students.
In 1981 and 1982, the district closed five schools. It discarded Emerson and Loma Vista Elementary Schools, but it found new uses for Havermale Junior High and Bancroft and Garland Schools. Havermale (for years it was known as Jantsch High School) became a place where high school students who left their neighborhood schools could finish their educations and earn their GEDs. Bancroft also became a home for "alternative" programs for at-risk students. For 25 years, the district has leased Garland to the Guild School for developmentally impaired children.
The school closures and shifts in mission of the early 1980s finished an active decade of change involving Spokane public schools. That decade started in 1972 with the failure of a school levy, after which the district closed nine elementary schools (and briefly toyed with closing the old North Central High School) and laid off more than 100 teachers. Some of those long-forgotten schools (Columbia, Hamilton, Whittier) were deemed too old; others (Stadium) suffered from declining enrollments.
Two of those schools are still use. The old Alcott School, built in 1955 in the East Central neighborhood, now serves as the district's media center. Field School, on the north side of Shadle Park High, sat unused for several years but in 1980 was put to use hosting Shadle's math classes. It will continue to be used for the next two years, while the district renovates Shadle. After that, it will be razed and the land will be used for a parking lot.